Disclaimer: This blog does not reflect the opinions and policies of the Peace Corps, the University of South Florida (USF), the U.S. government, or the government of Mali

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ne Menna (I have been long/a long time)

Yes, I know it has been FOREVER since I posted and when preparing for the PC I always wondered why people didn't update their blogs more often but internet is both slow and computers are hard to come by. I was going to update before I left on Christmas holiday but I got strep throat which almost kept me in Bamako but luckily the drugs worked.

So, my apologies! Here are some updates since my last post:

As I think I mentioned I had Thanksgiving dinner at the US Ambassador's to Mali's house which was amazing! Turkey, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, AND pumpkin pie with REAL whipped cream! There were over 30 volunteers and some high school exchange students. Overall a really great time, great food, and I had a lot to be thankful for but still missed my regular thanksgiving in MI (cranberry orange relish!).

It was only a there and back trip to Bamako (so I didn't bike) and the following day was a big muslim holiday, Tabaski. People in my village stayed up until 5 or 6AM the night before while I was still recovering from Thanksgiving (my body doesn't like good food...) and then we ate basically all day! There was lots of rice AND meat. The day after Tabaski was pretty amazing.
Apparently every year some people from Turkey come in and give meat to each person in our village. We had a big ceremony at the school with costumes made out of trash and dancing to welcome them. It was an interesting experiencing watching "tubabs" come into the village and being more apart of the village than the strangers. They even leant me a rice sack shirt with
cigarette and tea cartons sewed to it. Next year I have to make my own. They get really creative and call themselves "Ngolomas", basically stupid/useless people. Made me think of my days in Tau Beta Sigma with our "pots" and random things attached to them. At that moment, it made me feel like they found the perfect village match for me.

The people from Turkey that could speak some english overwhelmed me with questions on how I could live in my village? was I scared? What did I eat? Did I eat with my hands? How did my parents let me come to Africa? I was overwhelmed since I am so used to being among other PCVs that what we do does not seem so out of the ordinary. I was just really happy to eat really
good beef for about 3 days.

A. Half Marathon
After Tabaski there was not too much time before I headed back to Bamako for our Inservice-training December 7th. I headed back early to bike the half marathon route from our office to Tubaniso and back. In three days I biked 70 miles and ran 13.1 which went pretty well. Me and three others ran the half marathon on the morning of training along with 3 people on bikes with
water :) We had enough time to walk into the dining hall to cheers, grab breakfast, change clothes, and go to session.

B. Training
December 7th-20th was spent in training but this time a lot more technical and not much language training. I got to go down a
well, down a latrine, help construct a latrine slab, help with top well repair in a nearby village, disassemble an India-Mali pump,
learn about rope-and-knot pumps, and built half of a mini-cistern. Altogether very hands on and useful. I did post pictures of Tabaski and IST on Facebook, here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2626400&id=13705312&l=a4f972522b

Other training focused on HIV/AIDs education, project design and management, radio, urine fertilization, and Incoming Generating Activities (IGAS)-learned to make natural mosquito repellent, soap, mango driers, and mud fabric :) Overall, I think training went really well but I am a PC dork so my opinions are bias. It was quite overwhelming with all the project opportunities and that our "real" work will be starting soon. However, our "stage"/new PCVs felt closer. I still had my dugutigi duties and we got some pretty awesome shirts made.

We also had a Holiday party complete with paper snowflakes, a white elephant gift exchange, Home Alone, and hot chocolate and mini marshmellows courtousy of my Mom, Aunts, and Nana w/ Package Billi Billi Ba #5 (still the biggest of all X-mass packages! Radio, velvetta!, M&Ms, running shoes, fabric, oh my). I made about 25 friendship bracelets the colors of the Malian and American flags and gave them to the volunteers in my region (Koulikoro) and sector (WATSAN) as Christmas presents and they were a pretty big hit. If I get more colors I will make them for all of our stage. I am wearing one as an anklet and apparently that is a foreign concept to Malians and they keep asking why it isn't on my wrist. It has been weird and kind of nice not being surrounded by Christmas decorations, music, and advertisements but the party put me in the holiday spirits.

Last part of IST the WATSAN volunteers went on a trip to a village 2 hours away to see some ECOSAN projects done by an NGO CREPA. They had built some compost latrines, wash areas, soak pits, a mini-market for school children, water cisterns, and some hand washing stations. It was great seeing the technologies in the field but some were, unfortunately, in disuse or disrepair. There was also another Gender and Development (GAD) meeting and I was honored to be elected the new National Coordiantor/President. I had put together a manual before and during IST for volunteers to get project ideas and learn how to incorporate GAD into their service which is still a work in progress but a good start. I'm excited to serve in this new position but I have some big shoes to fill from the previous National Coordinator.

I also wanted to give a shout out to Mrs. Edginton and her 5th grade class ( Robert, Clayton, Hannah, Lily, Dalton, Josh, Charlene, Darien, Ethan, Katelyn, Amber, Jasmine, Sarah, McKayla, Taylor, Maggie, Albert, Keaten, Erik, Lindsey, and Zack). I received individual letters, two pictures of their class (one in Halloween costumes), and a letter about how they spent Thanksgiving (made my mouth water with the list of food) during IST. I don't know if any of them this read this (I will send an e-mail) but a general letter to the class is on its way and individual letters should be coming shortly as well. I just ask to be patient with the Malian postal system. Hopefully you get them before Valentines day, but I really enjoyed reading all your letters and look forward to more correspondance :)

I decided to join 15 of my fellow volunteers to go up to the Northern reaches of Mali (close to Timboutou/Timbuktu in Mopti region) to another volunteers site to spend the Christmas holiday. It took 12 hours to get there but we got PC transport (air conditioned and all Americans blasting various tunes from portable iPOD speakers.) but we arrived at the PC house in Sevrai and the next day took our own bashee ("malian bus"), 4 hours to Sam's site. Northern Mali is completely different than my region and resembles the American west, plateaus, cliffs, few but large trees. We spent a few days at her site where we had an AMAZING christmas dinner of corn bread, green beans, deviled eggs, stuffing, candied yams, and goat fresh off the spit. I will admit on Christmas day I had saved Sara-Janes and my Mom's Christmas cards (since I couldn't wait to open the package), and my Mom had included a snowflake in her card that made me cry just a little. (but it was a happy cry just the same) Needless to say, I have daydreams of going home for Christmas next year :)

Here are some photos from Billy who has an awesome camera:
Christmas in Dogon Country: http://www.facebook.com/album.phpaid=2047137&id=14900208&l=4cb4df4f61
Dogon Hike: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2047186&id=14900208&l=87b7313706

The day after Christmas we set off on a pretty rigourous 3-day hike up cliffs and through Dogon villages where we slept under the stars on hotel roofs. It was amazing and beautiful though the kids were somewhat oppressive (Ca Va Bon Bon/ l'argent/biki/bidon, Hello candy?money?pen? bottle?) near the end and I missed being able to somewhat speak the language. I returned to Bamako on public transit this time (half spent sitting on a leaky 20-L water bottle) on the 29th, spent the 30th in Bamako and finished my Master's International quarterly report.

NEW YEARS (Trente ni une ke, literally 31sting)
On New Years Eve I decided to head back to my village. I had been gone for over 3 weeks and was feeling guilty, low on cash, and missing my village. I had told them I would be back the 4th so they were surpised when I showed up early (there is no reception at my site still so I couldn't call). I spent the day greeting, unpacking, and drinking tea. I was surprised and pleased to discover that my house had not been destroyed by termites, just a thick layer of dust, and that my cat was still alive (so now I will need to name it and take it to the vet). Though I tried, I fell asleep before midnight since they don't really celebrate the new year but I was still happy I went back. I made some New Years Resolutions in my journal before I crashed:
1. Take my vitamens (Aunt Lori will be happier with this one)
2. Try to eat healtheir (I must have gained 10lbs from training and even hiking...)
3. Get better at Bambara & hopefully start learning some french too
4. Integrate more
5. Handle my living stipend better
6. Keep up letter writing, running, biking, organization, etc.

WHAT'S NEXT (Mun ye kofe ye)
So as Aunt Lori asked, when do you start doing real work? The answer, doni doni (little by little). Just in the two days that I got back where I was resettling in and having to answer the countless questions and exclamations that I had been gone a long time, my homologue wanted to start the WATSAN committee and my tutor's women's organization wants to know what they can do with their 175,000 CFA( $350) they have saved over the year. So here is the general goal in the next six weeks before I got to Senegal for the West African International Softball Tournament (WAIST) and GAD conference and spend a week traveling with MEGGIE!!:
•Form a WATSAN committee with my homologue and village chief based on my site mate’s model of 6 women and 6 men.
•Participate in pilot project “Take your Daughters to Work Day” in my region which includes selecting 5 girls from my village’s 5th/6th grade to travel for a four day formation where they will shadow working women of Kati/Bamako Jan. 17-21.
•Conduct PHAST(Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation) activities with the new WATSAN committee and begin to prioritize, select, and organize our first projects in the community
•Conduct PHAST activities and other health and WATSAN formations at the school in my village
•Conduct PACA(Participatory Assessment of Community Activity) such as seasonal calendar and community mapping with the WATSAN committee and some of the women’s organizations in my village
•Complete food security baseline survey in my commune capital (part of pilot project with USAID and PC-Mali)•Complete the GAD baseline survey in my village and CSCOM (health clinic) in my commune capital
•Explore project possibilities in Life Skills (HIV/AIDs) education at the higher grade levels in my commune capital and radio shows in my site mate’s village at the catholic radio station.

So, wish me luck. I am a bit nervous/excited/overwhelmed. There is pressure to get things done but it needs to be done sustainbly so I don't waist PC, my village, or other money. Thanks again for your continued support, letters, and packages. I just got a package from Kay and Mike (two soccer balls, a pump, lots of magazines, yarn, Trader Joe's CHOCOLATE!, and dried fruit!!!) THANK YOU. Apparently there are more on their way!!! I hope a lot of your received my Christmas cards and post cards. I sent a lot via returning volunteers for the holidays with US postage.